17 December, 2011
05 August, 2011
-Common misquotation of Ralph Waldo Emerson, written May 1849 (Emerson, Emerson and His Journals, 1984 ed. Joel Porte.)
Quote mining does not refer simply to taking a quote out of context
-Conservapedia, Quote Mining, actually making a very daffy point which I've cleverly hidden by quote mining them. Accessed this morning if I get my bum in gear writing this.
-Mike Walter discussing a popular misquotation of himself by 9/11 denialists.
Their favorite sport is stringing together quotations, carefully and sometimes expertly taken out of context, to show that nothing is really established or agreed upon among evolutionists. Some of my colleagues and myself have been amused and amazed to read ourselves quoted in a way showing that we are really antievolutionists under the skin.
Theodosius Dobzhansky, Nothing in Biology Makes Sense
Except in the Light of Evolution (1973)
To verify a quote, one needs to have not only who said it and where it was found but also when and how to find the original quote.
Someone or other, the internet.
That joke has run its course, which is a pity, because this section will not have many.
Quotation, when done appropriately, grants a sense of the sweet juicy innards of what a person is arguing by pilfering a summary they've made themselves. Misquotation is the elegant art of lying about what a person has said, often by using their words, sometimes by making some better ones up for them. Such misquotations, edited to give an impression contrary to the intended meaning of the original passage, are passed amongst people of a like ideological bent and treated as revered trophies: they are the scary man in the rubber mask confessing his crimes to those meddlin' kids. This tactic is so popular amongst denialists that this easily threatens to be a rather lengthy chapter full of examples from every event known to man rather than an explanation of the different factors at play. I will frenetically and with not a little sweat wrestle with my need to be boring, for all of our sakes, but c'mon, this section is about quoting, it's not going to be good.
To give a sense of the industry behind such efforts: one of the most epic examples, second perhaps only to Bible apologetics in general, is the grand scale of creationist misquotations, gathered in for example the Quote Mine Project, ably discussed in that very resource. Unfortunately as a Briton who attended Anglican schools in his youth my upbringing is insufficiently learnéd to inform me of Jesus' opinion of such gross dishonesty.
The very basics of appropriate citation of quotations involve exactly copying the quote (and making reasonable elisions clear), stating the name, pseudonym or organisation being cited, the date it was published, and the document from which it is being lifted. When one comes across any quote it pays to be suspicious, (seriously, everything anyone is reported as saying is a delightful lie) but one which omits these fundamentals should be immediately suspect. Even if they appear in quotation websites (which tend not to be terribly well done, or thorough in validating quotes), it pays to locate the primary source of a quote, and to be sceptical of those for which a primary source cannot be identified. Some such quotations are especially ubiquitous.
I am a most unhappy man. I have unwittingly ruined my country. A great industrial nation is controlled by its system of credit. Our system of credit is concentrated. The growth of the nation, therefore, and all our activities are in the hands of a few men. We have come to be one of the worst ruled, one of the most completely controlled and dominated Governments in the civilized world, no longer a Government by free opinion, no longer a Government by conviction and the vote of the majority, but a Government by the opinion and duress of a small group of dominant men.
-Darryl Schoon, D IS FOR DOMINANCE, DEBT & DEPRESSION, 2007, supposedly quoting Woodrow Wilson. See also here, here, Aaron Russo's America: Freedom to Fascism (2006), the entire internet, etc.
This block of text is reproduced endlessly, often with a date given (essentially at random, for truth and justice). It feels right, looks right, and someone absolutely trustworthy always brings it up in a fed debate, so it must be real. It is an incomplete reference - we do not know from where it is supposedly lifted - and I will complete it. It is a mash from two different chapters which completely alters the meaning of what Wilson is discussing - Theodore Roosevelt's New Nationalism policy.
However it has come about, it is more important still that the control of credit also has become dangerously centralized. It is the mere truth to say that the financial resources of the country are not at the command of those who do not submit to the direction and domination of small groups of capitalists who wish to keep the economic development of the country under their own eye and guidance. The great monopoly in this country is the monopoly of big credits. So long as that exists, our old variety and freedom and individual energy of development are out of the question. A great industrial nation is controlled by its system of credit. Our system of credit is privately concentrated. The growth of the nation, therefore, and all our activities are in the hands of a few men who, even if their action be honest and intended for the public interest, are necessarily concentrated upon the great undertakings in which their own money is involved and who necessarily, by very reason of their own limitations, chill and check and destroy genuine economic freedom. This is the greatest question of all, and to this statesmen must address themselves with an earnest determination to serve the long future and the true liberties of men.
We are at the parting of the ways. We have, not one or two or three, but
many, established and formidable monopolies in the United States. We have,
not one or two, but many, fields of endeavor into which it is difficult,
if not impossible, for the independent man to enter. We have restricted
credit, we have restricted opportunity, we have controlled development,
and we have come to be one of the worst ruled, one of the most completely controlled and dominated, governments in the civilized world--no longer a government by free opinion, no longer a government by conviction and the vote of the majority, but a government by the opinion and the duress of small groups of dominant men.
-Woodrow Wilson, The New Freedom, 1913.
The sections sticky-fingered for the denialist misquote are underlined. Of particular note, Wilson's line 'Our system of credit is privately concentrated', has had 'privately' specifically omitted. The more complete sentences ending ' [...] and destroy genuine economic freedom' and beginning 'We have restricted credit [...]' are slashed so as to hide the nature of the argument being made by Wilson and leave merely the suggestive pejorative. There is no indication of their removal, not that this would improve the honesty of such misquotation considerably.
Literal words are lifted perhaps merely to give the text the flavour of the man’s prose, so that anyone who fails to verify them may more easily make the mistake of accepting that these are really the fellow’s sentiments (although this may be unnecessary, given that half of all quips in this world being attributed to Shaw, and the other half to Churchill, divided purely on how cross they sound). It certainly isn't to give a sense of what he is actually stating, as even we can probably tell. As a piéce de résistance for the deception, the lines 'I am a most unhappy man. I have unwittingly ruined my country.' are added for seasoning.
This one does the rounds in global warming denialist circles, as it seems to validate the claim that scientists in the 1970s were predicting that the earth would cool:
In 1974, the National Science Board announced: "During the last 20 to 30 years, world temperature has fallen, irregularly at first but more sharply over the last decade. Judging from the record of the past interglacial ages, the present time of high temperatures should be drawing to an end…leading into the next ice age.”
-Gary Sutton The Fiction of Climate Science 2009.
The reasoning behind crafting this little bit of dishonesty is somewhat unambiguous: that scientists were formerly committed to arguing exactly the opposite point of what they are now, and have changed their minds; therefore regardless of methodology, they are fickle, and their evidence, whatever its nature, is doubtful to the point of uselessness. Ils sont des scientifiques; il ne leur convient pas de se dédire. Nonetheless the context of the quotes - for they are two quotes chopped from different places (one from a 1972 report, one from 1974; the NSB did not say all of this 'in 1974' as the article claims) are placed together to misrepresent what both reports by the National Science Board were actually saying. Here are rather more complete quotes, with underlining of the material to show which sections were quoted, and bolding of the material which establishes how dishonestly they were cited:
Judging from the record of the past
interglacial ages, the present time of
high temperatures should be drawing
to an end, to be followed by a long
period of considerably colder temper-
atures leading into the next glacial
age some 20,000 years from now.
However, it is possible, or even likely,
that human interference has already
altered the environment so much that
the climatic pattern of the near future
will follow a different path.
-National Science Board, Patterns and perspectives in environmental science : report prepared for the National Science Board, National Science Foundation” 1972.
Human activity may be involved on an even broader scale in
changing the global climate. The growth and pattern of agricultural
and industrial development over the last century may have influenced
the mean temperature of the world. Warming temperatures prevailed
for about 100 years, from the mid-19th to the mid-20th centuries,
following the "little ice age" which lasted some 200 years. During the
last 20-30 years, world temperature has fallen, irregularly at first but
more sharply over the last decade.
The cause of the cooling trend is not known with certainty. But
there is increasing concern that man himself may be implicated, not
only in the recent cooling trend but also in the warming temperatures over the last century. According to this view, activities of the expanding human population — especially those involved with the burning of fossil fuels — raised the carbon dioxide content of the atmosphere, which acts as a "greenhouse" for retaining the heat radiated from the earth's surface. This, it is believed, may have produced the warming temperatures after the mid-19th century.
-National Science Board, Science and the challenges ahead : report of the National Science Board 1974.
I raise this example because it demonstrates a point admirably: this error in transmitting the essence of these two reports can only have been intentional, the result could only have been woven as stitching for the doddering argument that scientists and reputable scientific organisations in general were predicting global cooling trends in the future, and thereby to cast doubt upon the legitimacy of climatology as a science today. The incision is surgical; small sections are removed from a context to completely alter their meaning, establishing that it is deliberate. The mashing together of quotes from separate sources and the presentation of them as a single block is performed purely to convince the casual reader that a complete argument is being presented when it is known that it is not, so as to hide the incisions. Innumerable quote mines are demonstrably dishonest in this manner, rather than being mere errors of form, honest misreadings or typographical accidents. Such misquotation is transparently shameful, intentional, and common to denialists. I have a very serious face typing this, you know I mean business.
The North American Union lot, who sad to say are rapidly fading from our memories, also engaged in this extensively in their brief but darling existance - indeed, it is not a terrible exaggeration to suggest misquotation and shouting through megaphones was the entire basis of the movement. One of the weirdest suggestions was that Vicente Fox had confessed to agreeing to a common currency with George W. Bush, because we were told roughly where to find it, and because it's absurd.
Not only did Fox admit that he and George W. Bush have "agreed" to create a common currency, the Amero, he contended that a North American Union is "inevitable" That’s something that Jerry Corsi takes issue with while applauding Fox’s openness on national television.
Judith Arbandel, Vicente Fox admits that he and George W. Bush have ’agreed’ on common currency, North American Union, 2007.
Except, naturally, he did not. 'Agreed' and 'inevitable' are simple fabrications. Fox expressed his hope, over the long term, for a unified currency for Latin America, after being asked what he thought of the idea. He does not say he enacted a plan for one, he does not claim to have agreed on one with Bush, not that this could result in a pan-American currency anyway: Canada and the USA are not, notably, part of Latin America. The proposal he acknowledged to agreeing on with Bush was the FTAA, which also didn't propose a unified currency, but was an attempt to reduce trade barriers, among some other things of varying quality (it never happened, incidentally: too much resistance throughout the rest of the Americas). Once more, bold is my emphasis:
KING: E-mail from Mrs. Gonzalez in Elizabeth, New Jersey. "Mr. Fox, I would like to know how you feel about the possibility of having a Latin America united with one currency?”
FOX: Long term, very long term. What we propose together, President Bush and myself, it's ALCA, which is a trade union for all of the Americas. And everything was running fluently until Hugo Chavez came. He decided to isolate himself. He decided to combat the idea and destroy the idea...
KING: It's going to be like the euro dollar, you mean?
FOX: Well, that would be long, long term. I think the processes to go, first step into is trading agreement. And then further on, a new vision, like we are trying to do with NAFTA.
Vicente Fox and Larry King, Larry King Live October 8th 2007.
Tsk indeed, and a pair of brass uncle's peculiars were needed for simply lying about it. One is forced to speculate whether such details were included purely because the author was unaware that a transcript would be made.
Of course we see similar tactics from Holocaust deniers, but here the brass is titanic, polished, and perfectly well-shaped. An infamous refrain is that there is a comprehensive Red Cross report concerning the concentration camps of Germany which makes no mention of extermination camps, and instead suggest German camps were well run and hospitable (it is this to which Mr Butz is referring in the quotation I used in 'Just Asking Questions'). The major propagator of this is a pamphlet written by Richard Harwood (real name Richard Verrall), and published decades ago. Despite it being thoroughly debunked, it is still making the rounds amongst Holocaust denialists.
There is one survey of the Jewish question in Europe during World War Two and the conditions of Germany’s concentration camps which is almost unique in its honesty and objectivity, the three-volume Report of the International Committee of the Red Cross on its Activities during the Second World War, Geneva, 1948. This comprehensive account from an entirely neutral source incorporated and expanded the findings of two previous works: Documents sur I’activité du CICR en faveur des civils detenus dans les camps de concentration en Allemagne 1939–1945 (Geneva, 1946), and Inter Arma Caritas: the Work of the ICRC during the Second World War (Geneva, 1947). The team of authors, headed by Frédéric Siordet, explained in the opening pages of the Report that their object, in the tradition of the Red Cross, had been strict political neutrality, and herein lies its great value. The ICRC successfully applied the 1929 Geneva military convention in order to gain access to civilian internees held in Central and Western Europe by the German authorities. By contrast, the ICRC was unable to gain any access to the Soviet Union, which had failed to ratify the Convention. The millions of civilian and military internees held in the USSR, whose conditions were known to be by far the worst, were completely cut off from any international contact or supervision. The Red Cross Report is of value in that it first clarifies the legitimate circumstances under which Jews were detained in concentration camps, i.e. as enemy aliens. In describing the two categories. of civilian internees, the Report distinguishes the second type as “Civilians deported on administrative grounds (in German, Schutzhäftlinge, who were arrested for political or racial motives because their presence was considered a danger to the State or the occupation forces” (Vol. III, p. 73). These persons, it continues, “were placed on the same footing as persons arrested or imprisoned under common law for security reasons.” (p. 74). The Report admits that the Germans were at first reluctant to permit supervision by the Red Cross of people detained on grounds relating to security, but by the latter part of 1942, the ICRC obtained important concessions from Germany. They were permitted to distribute food parcels to major concentration camps in Germany from August 1942, and “from February 1943 onwards this concession was extended to all other camps and prisons” (Vol. III, p. 78). The ICRC soon established contact with camp commandants and launched a food relief programme which continued to function until the last months of 1945, letters of thanks for which came pouring in from Jewish internees.
-Richard Harwood, Did Six Million Really Die? 1974.
Publisher Ernst Zündel even, in more contemporary and the online editions of the pamphlet, graciously provides an errata, suggesting that there were numerous errors, albeit minor ones. This is done, a more suspicious man than myself would suggest, with the intention of erecting a facade that serious attempts were made to ensure the facticity of the publication in subsequent years, in a fashion which neglects to bring attention to the fact that the pamphlet is almost entirely incorrect in both general arguments and specific details. However I am not a suspicious man, and I confess that such complete and unabashed error can be a difficult thing to spot.
The nature of these misquotations demonstrate that denialists are confident in the inability or reluctance of individuals to check the validity of quotations. The sheer lionisation of misquotation is driven by an assumption, one with some legitimacy, that they will be widely reproduced without any attempt at checking their accuracy, and will thereby make their way insidiously into the background consciousness of our understanding of the wider pseudo-controversy. Harwood even has the chutzpah to include detailed references, unlike most of the other examples I've used. Unfortunately, and as something of a caution to assuming a complete-looking citation makes for a good quotation, they tend to point to the wrong page number or volume of the document, and the extent of the misrepresentation becomes immediately evident upon checking Harwood's claims against the source material.
Works accurately referencing the report and contextualising the falsity of these quotations are abundant (see, most extensively, Six Million Did Die: The Truth Shall Prevail (1977) by Suzman and Diamond, Deborah Lipstadt's Denying the Holocaust: The Growing Assault on Truth and Memory (1993) or, of course, the ICRC report itself.) Many of these claims are still parroted nearly 40 years later; for instance the claim of 300,000 dead according to the ICRC was recently picked up by Hal Turner (he could have asked). The ICRC Report in question speaks plainly and openly of Nazi Germany's attempted extermination of the Jews, including the deliberate policy of neglect and murder in the concentration camps, the policy of extermination by forced labour, and of its extermination camps. The ICRC is open and contrite about its failure to act on its knowledge of the Holocaust.
And, of course, 9/11 denialism relies heavily upon this. Norm Mineta, Larry Silverstein, witnesses to the Pentagon attack (who are actually quite consistent in what they saw, etc. etc.) I am a kid in a candy store of awful people here, so I will pick perhaps the worst misquotations: the vast banks of lies intended to create the false impression that many fire-fighters believed there were bombs planted in the twin towers or WTC 7. Often this is merely because they discuss hearing explosions, which is rather unsurprising in large, multi-story office fires - this in of itself is not misquotation, just a failure of thought. However, most of the fire-fighters intentionally stated that what they heard sounded 'like' explosions, specifically identify electrical explosions or some other source, or describe them as more like popping sounds, and these quotations are uniformly removed from context by denialists. The firemen broadly and consistently admitted when they weren't sure what they heard - a number concluded that it was the sound of the floors hitting each other during the collapse, the plane striking or a tower collapsing. To suggest from simile and comparison (or even identification of a completely different source) that they are literally suggesting bombs were going off is akin to suggesting they were blaming trains for the collapse. The fire-fighters onsite faithfully reported what they observed, but also cautious in interpreting those same observations, in a fashion which tends to rather be unhelpful to conspiracy theorists, so they have given them a bit of a tinkering to compensate.
In my conversation with Lieutenant Evangelista, never mentioning this to him, he questioned me and asked me if I saw low-level flashes in front of the building, and I agreed with him because I thought -- at that time I didn't know what it was. I mean, it could have been as a result of the building collapsing, things exploding, but I saw a flash flash flash and then it looked like the building came down.
Q. Was that on the lower level of the building or up where the fire was?
A. No, the lower level of the building. You know like when they demolish a building, how when they blow up a building, when it falls down? That's what I thought I saw. And I didn't broach the topic to him, but he asked me. He said I don't know if I'm crazy, but I just wanted to ask you because you were standing right next to me. He said did you see anything by the building? And I said what do you mean by see anything? He said did you see any flashes? I said, yes, well, I thought it was just me. He said no, I saw them, too.
I don't know if that means anything. I mean, I equate it to the building cowing down and pushing things down, it could have been electrical explosions, it could have been whatever. But it's just strange that two people sort of say the same thing and neither one of us talked to each other about it. I mean, I don't know this guy from a hole in the wall. I was just standing next to him.
-Stephen Gregory, his testimony, 2001. Compare to David Ray Griffin Twin Towers in the 9/11 Oral Histories, 2006; underlining is Griffin's quote, bolding my emphasis.
In a slightly more interesting and less ludicrously offensive fashion, the 9/11 Commission Report is lambasted based on some quote mines lifted from various books by insiders, such as John Farmer's . The principle meme raised from deniers trusting in other deniers' honesty is that the 9/11 Commission Report contains details which the people on the Commission knew to be grossly incorrect.
John Farmer’s book: “The Ground Truth: The Story Behind America’s Defense on 9/11"The 9/11 Commission now tells us that the official version of 9/11 was based on false testimony and documents and is almost entirely untrue. The details of this massive cover-up are carefully outlined in a book by John Farmer, who was the Senior Counsel for the 9/11 Commission.
Farmer, Dean of Rutger Universities' School of Law and former Attorney General of New Jersey, was responsible for drafting the original flawed 9/11 report.
Does Farmer have cooperation and agreement from other members of the Commission? Yes. Did they say Bush ordered 9/11? No. Do they say that the 9/11 Commission was lied to by the FBI, CIA, Whitehouse and NORAD? Yes. Is there full documentary proof of this? Yes.
Farmer states...“at some level of the government, at some point in time…there was an agreement not to tell the truth about what happened... I was shocked at how different the truth was from the way it was described …. The [Norad air defense] tapes told a radically different story from what had been told to us and the public for two years. This is not spin.”
The 9/11 Commission head, Thomas Kean, was the Republican governor of New Jersey. He had the following to say... “We to this day don’t know why NORAD [the North American Aerospace Command] told us what they told us, it was just so far from the truth. . . " When Bush's own handpicked commission failed to go along with the cover up and requested a criminal investigation, why was nothing done”
Gordon Duff. The 9/11 Commission Rejects own Report as Based on Government Lies 2009.
However, the lies of NORAD and the FAA were exposed by the 9/11 Commission, and Farmer discusses this - he is essentially being misquoted to grant the impression that he was giving the opposite opinion of what he was actually stating about the Report. While acknowledging that Farmer is pointing out that NORAD had previously propagated a grossly inaccurate representation of the events of that day, Duff does so without noting that it was the Commission which exposed these falsehoods, and uncovered what had actually happened with the help of, among other things, the tape recorders at NEADS (which are now publicly available). The Report contains the explanation based on those tapes and testimony made in light of their revelations, not those earlier falsehoods by NORAD. A success of the Commission in exposing a definitive pattern of dishonesty is trumpeted as an example of their failures. The misquotation of Farmer can only be deliberate, and the ignorance of the contents of the 9/11 Commission Report is inexcusable.
Why would denialists deliberately weaken a demonstration of falsehoods by government officials by lying about the nature of those deceptions? This is where it gets a bit less dull (if you're into this sort of thing, and you probably shouldn't be). The 9/11 Commission Report had actually demonstrated a concerted effort at deception by a governmental agency, but in doing so it revealed a reality that was unhelpful to those who believe there was a stand down order from the President or his cabinet which prevented an interception, that NORAD deliberately missed its chances to intercept hijacked airliners, or that NORAD was forced into being incapable of responding due to on-the-day intervention or training exercises which confused the response - a government agency had demonstrably lied, and no shocks there, but not to cover up a conspiracy about allowing an attack to happen. Rather, NORAD, indeed the entire air defense network of North America, was simply incapable of responding timely to the hijacking of a commercial airliner, and this was due to a structural arrangement of defences designed to look outwards, for a foreign threat, and hampered even further by the gradual post-cold war amelioration of those defences over the past few decades. They had lied to hide the vast vulnerability of the United States. More leadership positions were filled as a result of the training exercises, and we now know, confirmed in the NEADS tapes but first reported in the 9/11 Commission Report, that switching from those training exercises took less than a minute - that, nonetheless, the systems in place were simply incapable of rapidly locating and identifying hijacked domestic airliners, over the continental united states, and amidst the teeming hundreds of day-to-day commercial air traffic.
Therefore the actual demonstration of official dishonesty is ignored, indeed it is covered up by conspiracy theorists, who wish to tell a different story; who wish, instead, to use Farmer's authority as a member of the Commission to falsely argue that he is suggesting the attacks were not allowed to happen or prearranged to happen by government forces, in preference to the actual meaning of the text being quoted from, which is a discussion of a much milder but still inexcusable act of government malfeasance.
Why is this tactic so omnipresent amongst conspiracy theorists? Partly because each of the people thus quoted are generally regarded as authorities, and their seeming admission to great crimes, mistakes, errors or problems gives the appearance of adding weight to the contention of denialists. These misquotations share something in common: in each case it is extremely clear what the intended meaning is from the wider text being quoted from, and the omission of that text, or the alteration of the quotations, is done deliberately so as to alter the implied meaning intended by the authors. Rather than summarising the point being made, they are used as a cudgel of false authority used to beat us into doubting a well-established science rather than as a tool of illumination; those who eventually end up quoting such things at you to prove their point may not be the culprits of the hack job, may have merely been too lazy and ignorant to check the validity of their quote, and hope you will be too.
Oh, and the clever Candide reference thing was the result of the hard labours of a fine Frenchwoman helping me look pretentious and educated.
15 July, 2011
Doubt is our product since it is the best means of competing with the "body of fact" that exists in the mind of the.general public. It is also the means of establishing a controversy.
In such cases teachers should not teach as true only one competing view, just the Republican or Democratic view of the New Deal in a history class, for example. Instead, teachers should describe competing views to students and explain the arguments for and against these views as made by their chief proponents. Educators call this “teaching the controversy.”
LANGUAGE THAT WORKS
"We must not rush to judgment before all the facts are in. We need to ask more questions. We deserve more answers. And until we learn more, we should not commit America to any international document that handcuffs us either now or into the future."
Documents published by the International Red Cross and the Vatican do not harmonize with the extermination claims, and the very well informed wartime Pope, Pius XII, is often castigated for not speaking up against exterminations of Jews.
Partially on account of general wartime conditions and partially as a consequence of the German measures against the Jews (e.g. crowding into ghettos), a large number of Jews perished, but nothing near six million.
Published population statistics are quite meaningless, mainly because almost all of the Jews involved in the problem were East European (e.g. two or three million Polish Jews), but also because in the U.S.A. there has been no reliable count -- the census does not treat this and the concept "Jew" was not admitted into the official records when a very large number entered the U.S. after the war. To the extent that a significant number of Jews might seem to be missing from some region they occupied before the war, they can to the best of our knowledge be accounted for in terms of the massive and well known postwar movements of Jews to the U.S., Palestine and other lands, and also in terms of their simply remaining in the Soviet Union where the Germans had put them, according to the German documents.
The evidence for the extermination allegations depends crucially on trials, such as the Nuremberg trials, held before courts that were for political reasons constrained to accept the basic truth of such allegations. Thus to many relevant defendants it seemed that the only possible defense strategy was to deny not the exterminations but only their personal responsibility for them (e.g. Ernst Kaltenbrunner or Adolf Eichmann).
27 June, 2011
Welcome to the most exciting, the most thrilling and the most sexually anticipated series of posts on this inane blog. I thought up most of this text while falling asleep once, and then forgot it all. These are the dregs of my somnambulance. Embrace them.
Denialism is the employment of rhetorical tactics to give the appearance of argument or legitimate debate, when in actuality there is none. These false arguments are used when one has few or no facts to support one's viewpoint against a scientific consensus or against overwhelming evidence to the contrary. They are effective in distracting from actual useful debate using emotionally appealing, but ultimately empty and illogical assertions.
Hoofnagle and Hoofnagle, What is Denialism?
There are many kinds of denialism. The most well-known, perhaps, is Holocaust denialism; the attempt to deny the facts of the Holocaust, that roughly 6 million Jews and 6 million Slavs, homosexuals, gypsies and others were executed in mass and deliberate killings enacted with the full knowledge of and by the Nazi government with the collusion of governments and citizenry of several nations, through the use of gas chambers built especially for the purpose, and myriad other means of murder. For the most part when they break into our quiet little internet corner we laugh it off or rebuke them with indignation - no serious thinking person could possibly fall for the obvious falsehoods of Holocaust deniers; they are openly driven by puerile interests, and they stand naked and exposed in the light of literal tons of documentary evidence, hundreds of thousands of witnesses, scientific inquiry and confession - so why humour them? This is actually an excellent question, but not one to be answered today.
AIDS denialism is perhaps second in infamy in the West, although its successes internationally are far greater, and far graver; it is the attempt to deny that HIV causes AIDS, and to deny the efficacy of AIDS treatments, which themselves are frequently blamed for symptoms or AIDS itself. The brief adoption of AIDS denialism by the South African government under President Mbeki alone killed hundreds of thousands of people and has resulted in the preventable transmission of the disease to thousands of babies from their infected mothers, and we are suddenly rather less inclined to laugh at them than at Holocaust deniers. It contradicts as much evidence as holocaust denial must. It has as little foundation in fact, although the arguments are more technical and we can't follow them all. But it has been and is taken seriously by very powerful people, and people without such power die as a result.
Closer to home the cost of the tobacco industry's concerted attempts to deny the carcinogenic properties of smoking, and then of second hand smoke, are long-exposed, and to a greater extent the toll is also forgotten despite the immense number of lives tobacco continues to take; with industry efforts to deny climatology, we witness the dangerous pattern emerge again, where industry and faux scholarship are pitted against the scientific community. Homeopaths often, and certainly amongst themselves, deny that 'allopathic' medicine - their jargon term for evidence-based medicine - is effective, and are occasionally exposed, with the aegis of an assumed and fictional authority, advising patients against using well-evidenced treatments and for using a sugar pill, which, numerous studies and a century or two later, still does not have an effect greater than placebo. Similarly anti-vaccine campaigners have tried various ruses in combating medicine, the most well known in America perhaps being the promulgation of the claim that the thiomersal preservative used in some vaccines causes autism. In Britain, where thiomersal usage has always been low, but which has experienced an identical spike in autism diagnoses, the measles, mumps and rubella vaccine (known as the MMR 'triple jab') is typically blamed. It contains no thiomersal, and also does not cause autism. The efforts of such people, and a media willing and eager to stoke the flames of sensationalism and fear, have resulted in a drop in the MMR vaccine's usage, and measles is once more endemic in Britain. The diagnoses of autism continue to rise, as they do in America, Japan, and Canada despite the removal of most or all vaccines containing thiomersal, and extensive studies and meta-analyses across each nation demonstrating that neither thiomersal nor the MMR vaccination cause autism.
Clerics in Nigeria, Pakistan and Afghanistan have spread rumours that the polio vaccine causes sterility, and is a Western plot to eradicate muslims, leading to drops in coverage which have led to minor outbreaks in the latter countries and larger ones in Africa. The Catholic Church champions opposition to effective condom programmes in Africa, skimping on scientific accuracy when theology fails, hindering efforts to combat AIDS through the simple art of dishonesty regarding the science and statistics of such efforts. Pharmaceutical companies do this sort of thing all of the time; sometimes even twice, before breakfast. The efforts of creationists in the US to suppress biology education in state schools in the US are legion, have been expensive for taxpayers, and have resulted in several generations of children in various locales having their educations hindered for no sane reason, but typically creationists do not enjoy much success in such efforts, at least for very long. Japanese officials and MPs frequently deny the extent of the horrors committed by the Imperial Army during the second world war, and this denial creeps into text books and syllabuses.
Many forms of denialism, regardless of success, seem to be rather less malevolent irrespective of their popularity. Who cares if Bob in accounting thinks George Bush fired a missile into the Pentagon on 9/11 and Neil Armstrong never set foot on the moon? If someone thinks Oliver Stone's JFK is full of ground-breaking revelations does it make a difference to man or beast? No, of course. But the same kind of thinking, the same stalwart opposition to the full weight of evidence, and the same opposition to numerous sciences, mathematics and well-established historical methodologies underpin all of these beliefs. Rather than looking at the validity of the beliefs themselves I'm going to make a series of posts looking at some of the ways in which denialists transmit their ideas, in a mad frenzy of anti-science bingo of how the propaganda is, indeed, catapulted. I believe any reasonably intelligent and well-informed person will readily be able to weigh and find false these various denialist claims, which I've spent a ridiculously long time refuting to little avail anyway - I'll try to resist sticking in the refutations to the individual examples I'll raise, but the flesh is weak. This will be grossly informal of course; the categories I've chosen are based on my own meandering surprise at how often the same kind of arguments, the same strategies of attacking science, are engaged in across the denialist spectrum.
11 June, 2011
For many Muslims, although of course certainly not all, the hijab, the religious requirements of modesty, require an almost-complete covering of the body for women, including a covering of the face through the use of a burkha or nijab. The realisation of hijab is therefore an article of religious devotion for many Muslim women, a recognition of the strength of their faith and personal virtue. It has therefore become something of a battleground between practitioners of the faith and people who know best, who wish to protect home-grown values.
Moreover, the appeal to tradition falls afoul of the fact that typically most of a nation's internal intellectual mosaic must be ignored in order to pretend this view of a monolithic homogeny is accurate. While many French and Belgian people certainly are terrified of Islam and will happily cast it as the Other out of ignorance or cynical political exploitation, most of the republics of France have been borne of Enlightenment ideals, and Belgium is happily part of the same tapestry, sort of. But two of the central ideals developed from the age of reason have been religious tolerance and equality under the law. The modern realisation that women are independent and intelligent beings, sovereign members of our political landscape as responsible and deserving as men in legal and political rights, is one of the most noble and right echoes of those ideals. If a woman chooses to acknowledge her religion through her dress, if she chooses to realise her own understanding of modesty and regard it as a virtue, then there must be an intensely high burden of justification in preventing her from doing so. The mere fact that you personally are made uncomfortable by people who do not dress like you do or that there have not been many around is not such a justification.
The arguments in favour of banning the burkha are entertainingly contradictory and nonsensical. If we take it as a given - for it surely is - that at least some women are forced to wear the burkha against their wishes, that they are so utterly in the thrall of their husband and surrounding communities that their mode of dress is not a matter of their personal choice then the idea that a forced liberation is taking place by banning the wearing of a burkha is laughably naive and myopic: rather, one makes the likelihood of such women being allowed into the public sphere by such a dominating and bullying community that much less likely; it pushes the central issue out of the public eye, but does nothing to correct it or aid the women so afflicted. The issue there is much deeper than the mode of dress. Additionally it is rather absurd to rail against Muslim men making such a choice for a woman, to lament a culture steeped in misogyny, whilst advocating that instead the state should make such a choice for women, because for very many women it is, indeed, a choice. Both forms of control are predicated on the belief that being a Muslim and a woman are both defects in sovereignty. Both are obviously wrong and should be offensive in any modern democracy.